When you and I use the word "leadership," we're tempted to think we each know what the other is talking about. The truth is, that single term covers a broad spectrum of realities, with diverse meanings and implications. Which type of leadership do you aspire to model in your organization?

 

Traditional Leadership

Traditional leadership equates successfully running an operation with power, toughness and hierarchical control. This classic, "frontier" style of leadership uses such benchmarks as task mastery, competitiveness, bottom-line results and profitability.

It is hardly a compelling proposition at any level of an organization.

Machismo breeds troops who adopt a philosophy driven by turf mentality. Ego-bound leaders often fail to unite their teams, inviting opposition between team members, with a lot of posturing, bravado and singular accomplishments.

Another term for this classic corporate leadership style is "transactional leadership," in other words, leadership based on a reward system. Services rendered successfully are rewarded, while unmet goals are punished. In such an environment, collaboration remains suspect. Even when people do work together successfully, the organization tends to single out one "leader" who may simply be the most visible member of the group, and then anoint that individual as the hero.

Most true leaders achieve their success with the help of others. However, despite repeated calls for that oft-invoked and much-lauded value of "teamwork," the prevailing corporate culture favors individual achievers. Individuals, not groups, are who normally receive bonuses and awards--organizational slogans and team pledges notwithstanding.

Job satisfaction surveys, regardless of the industry studied, consistently indicate that financial remuneration is not a primary motivator towards fulfillment on the job. Recognition and a sense of being valued are what most powerfully contribute to people's sense of job fulfillment, which in turn results in their being personally invested in organizational goals and corporate profits.

 

Transformational Leadership

Transformational leadership focuses on the concern for the broader organizational goal. An interactive style, rather than a command-and-control paradigm, encourages the sharing of information, the distribution of power and a collaborative effort towards the realization of corporate goals.

As more and more members of the organization become "stakeholders," their growing participation increases the support base of these larger goals. An increase in shared information also promotes the value of the individual members, resulting in a greater sense of self-worth throughout the organization.

Today's effective business leaders derive much of their success from what might be termed "connective leadership": the accomplishment of mutual goals. Executives share responsibility and take pride in allowing others to win. In this type of leadership culture, there is far less compulsion to outperform or out-win one's peers; members of such a culture at times may even place a greater value on a colleague's success than on their own.

A transformational leader's self-definition involves the altruistic concern and care for others rather than a combative, controlling, or competitive orientation. Such leaders are less protective of their turf and have a natural proclivity towards developing relationships with their staff. Empowering executives don't view the implementation of company strategy as a series of transactions. They lead by building consensus, their power and control taking a back seat to the more important building of relationships towards the organization's overall goals.

 

Looking for the Buy-In

Transformational leaders understand that the organization's members have a natural desire to participate in creating the organization's goals, not just pursuing and realizing them. Soliciting and acting on the members' input increases organization-wide support for decisions and reduces opposition. This style of leadership is characterized by a compelling ability to foster and maximize shared success within an organization.

Sharing power, championing ideas, and fostering mutual participation are at the core of this more inclusive form of leadership. This is the true definition of "buy-in"--as opposed to what is sometimes called a "buy-in" environment, but is in reality a top-down culture ("You people make it happen").

Business organizations are beginning to challenge the notion that traditional transactional leadership is the only way to realize corporate profits. They are recognizing that transformational leadership can be highly effective for those organizations prepared to embrace it. This may prove a difficult task for companies with long histories of controlling, hierarchical leadership, where "survival of the fittest" is equated with toughness, power, intimidation, and strong-arm tactics. But today's business realities make it a necessary step.

Organizations that revise their definition of successful leadership are positioned in a win-win orientation. Brilliant strategy and clarity of execution depend on the entire organization being inspired to take pride in their accomplishments. This is what ultimately will motivate people to achieve the targets for which they--and you--are aiming.

DR. CINDY WAHLER
(cwahler@sympatico.ca)
is an industrial psychologist and executive coach with expertise in leadership development.
www.networkingtimes.com/link/wahler